Distilled Sign, Distilled NY

A popular, relatively new place on the main drag of Tribeca, Distilled fills up on a weekday night with people who seem to have made it their neighborhood canteen. Indeed, Distilled’s motto is “redefining the public house.” With its soaring ceilings, big glossy dining room set with casual four-tops and a bar that runs along the entire side wall, it has the feel of a modern day dining hall. But this isn’t just the place to load up on drinks and grub on your way to somewhere else. Distilled has the kind of food that merits a special visit.  (more…)

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Mighty Quinn’s Barbecue

“The best barbecue comes from someone’s backyard,” D. said, recounting childhood times in Georgia when he and his dad would track down the local guy with an outdoor pit, ring the front bell and exchange money for a styrofoam container of pulled pork or ribs. This might be a little too Texas Chainsaw Massacre for me, but the point still stands. I have been in the big backyard that is Smorgasburg on the banks of the East River, waiting in line with dozens of other people for a taste of Mighty Quinn’s barbecue there. Follow the scent of wafting smoke and queue up for some very good ‘cue.  (more…)

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First and foremost, Maysville is a great business idea. A bar and restaurant dedicated to bourbon, the fastest growing spirit category in the U.S., situated in the up-and-coming neighborhood of NoMad (the Breslin, the John Dory Oyster Bar, and of course the NoMad), is just the right concept in just the right location. Maysville just opened a couple of months ago, but it’s already a popular after-work destination for a grown up crowd – the sort who can afford to pay $16 for two ounces of bourbon. If you can secure a seat at the bar here (go early), the glowing wall of backlit bourbon bottles that give off the same psychological warmth as a roaring fire.  (more…)

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Bobwhite Lunch & Supper Counter

Remember when dinner and a drink in the East Village would set you back less than $20? Despite the number of more expensive places opening up in the neighborhood, one new restaurant has nostalgic appeal not just in the comfort food but in the price: Southern-themed Bobwhite Lunch & Supper Counter on Avenue C.  (more…)

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Jeffrey’s Grocery

The past few years have seen a huge influx of “foodies” on the New York scene, Yelping, Chowhounding, and Four-Squaring about every bite. But don’t worry, New Yorkers haven’t been totally domesticated yet. For every one person jarring and pickling Union Square Greenmarket produce at home, there are probably four with nothing but a jar of pickles in the fridge.

Jeffrey’s Grocery in the West Village started out as a gourmet corner store with limited food service. Freshly cut flowers occupied the front, and the shelves were stocked with fancy pastas, olive oil and other top notch pantry supplies. Then the store closed and reopened as a plain old restaurant, with two- and four-tops where the flowers were. The lesson? As much as New Yorkers talk about food, they don’t actually prepare it themselves.  (more…)

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Summer Getaway: Asbury Park and Ocean Grove

New Jersey’s Asbury Park, the launching pad for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, has a rock and roll vibe you don’t find at many seaside towns. With lots of music clubs big and small, it draws a tattooed crowd that’s more indie than family. It’s hard to get bored here, with new restaurants opening every year, a great vintage pinball hall, hopping bar scene, touring bands and the occasional Bon Jovi sighting.

The perfect getaway for New Yorkers? Maybe, but there aren’t that many places to stay in still-gritty downtown Asbury. Fortunately, the antidote to Asbury debauchery can be found right next door in neighboring Ocean Grove, a former Methodist summer camp populated with historic Victorian houses, several of which have been turned into gracious B&Bs. There’s no booze to be had in this still-dry town, but the old-fashioned ice cream parlors and antique stores are the perfect counterpart to the nightlife next door.  (more…)

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The Commodore

What would you do for a great plate of fried chicken? At the original Pies-N-Thighs in Williamsburg a couple years ago, fried chicken fans had to be willing to wait. The line snaked out the door, and service was glacially slow – think Duane Reade with more piercings and tattoos. But then, perhaps even because it took 30 minutes to get to the front of the line then 10 minutes more to get your food, the chicken seemed breaded with manna from heaven, perfectly seasoned and perfectly crisp. So what if you had to eat it while crouched on a curb next to a trashcan?

Fried Chicken Thighs, The Commodore

If you were willing to endure the old Pies-N-Thighs (the new one is a larger, more restaurant-like place), you may want to try the Commodore, helmed by Stephen Tanner, previously of the chef at Pies-N-Thighs, and also in the kitchen at Diner and Egg. But be forewarned: if you don’t have the stamina of a 21-year-old and a love of crowds, you will end up feeling aged, cantankerous and starving – not unlike Mimi Sheraton cast into the wilds of Brooklyn. (more…)

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Rye House

Of all the qualities you can manufacture in a new restaurant – flattering lighting, good music, a smoky barbecue smell – the most elusive is fun. The other ingredients can come together perfectly, but if that feeling of good times is missing in the center, the final product can still fall flat.

Rye House in the Flatiron District is a relatively recent addition to the scene, but it already feels like a lot of good times have been had here. This may be largely because of the bar, which dominates a spacious front room and is manned by Lynnette Marrero and Jim Kearns, formerly of Freeman’s. Classic cocktails and a large selection of beer on tap draw in a big after-work crowd of the Park Bar variety – i.e., lots of guys. (more…)

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Red Rooster

It seems like every time an establishment of note opens in Harlem, people say, “Isn’t it great Harlem has finally gotten its own wine bar/Target/Fairway?” But Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster on Lenox Avenue should not be interpreted as a great new restaurant for Harlem. His effortlessly multi-cultural take on soul food, in which traditional Southern dishes get an injection of Indian curry, Swedish cardamom and Ethiopian injera, is a great addition to the entire New York dining scene.

Red Rooster, Exterior

That’s not to say a local crowd isn’t already smitten with the place. The horseshoe-shaped, copper-topped bar was packed three deep when Governor Patterson swept in to dine at Red Rooster on his last night in office. There are two dining levels and an open kitchen flanked by DBGB-esque black walls scripted with white lettering: recipes in Swedish and fanciful drawings of whisks. Despite the care that was put into the decor, it doesn’t feel at all stuffy. (more…)

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Have you ever discovered a new favorite place only to see it splashed all over the New York Times several days later? That’s what happened to us with not one but two places last week. Our only hope is that the Brooklyn location will keep (some of) the masses from swarming them.

Wall of Pickles, Seersucker

Place number one is Seersucker, a refined little Southern restaurant that recently opened on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens. Behind an unassuming exterior with stained glass and plants in the window, the inside has a modern farmhouse feel, with polished exposed brick walls, plain wooden tables, lab stools at the bar and Wilco on the stereo. (more…)

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The Redhead

The Redhead has been playing hard to get for some time now. Though she lives right near by me, every time I stopped by for dinner, she was booked, with waits of an hour or more. Ever since Bruni gave her a star – an honor that many similarly casual spots don’t earn – the Redhead’s dance card has been full.

Low Country Shrimp, the Redhead

The only answer is to persevere, because this is one small, inexpensive, urban-rustic place that merits the hype. Unlike so many other places that are carefully set-designed to look like a diamond in a rough but are really just rough, the Redhead has real polish in the food and service. (more…)

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Hill Country

Fette Sau is a hard act to follow.

This became apparent as soon as we walked into Hill Country. Where was the smell of barbecue? In Williamsburg, the scent of roasting meat bewitches you a block away, here there was barely a whiff of it, even when the counter staff opened the cantilevered storage units that contain piles of brisket, beef ribs, and fatty pork.

Manhattan might mean “island of many hills,” but this ain’t the boonies anymore. If Texas-inspired Hill Country exuded that barbecue scent, the neighbors would be hoppin’ mad. (It’s tough not to lapse into Texas talk as soon as you get here, what with the honky tonk music on the stereo.) On the other hand, Hill Country is conveniently located just blocks away from several subway lines, and this, as my fellow diner the Cheese Guy pointed out, is its biggest advantage. The cavernous hall, lined on one side with piles of firewood, chock full of wooden tables, and punctuated by BBQ and beer stations, easily fills with Manhattan diners, many of them guys in ties. This doesn’t even include the equally cavernous downstairs space, which has several long tables for large parties and live music several nights a week. But dang if it ain’t hard to hear in Hill Country: the acoustics are terrible.

We queued up for ‘cue, which is sold by the pound. In a Katz’s-like system, you get a ticket at the outset and get your own food. This is true to Texas style, so if you prefer table service, chances are you’d be better off in a fancy-pants New York place.

The biggest difference between Hill Country and Fette Sau is the smoker, or lack of a huge, hardworking one like Fette Sau’s Southern Queen. Hill Country’s brisket is juicier than Fette Sau’s, probably because it’s been cooked for a shorter time. But as any barbecue aficionado can tell you, this means it loses something in the flavor department. The rub on the outside is good, but it doesn’t penetrate far into the beef. The same goes for nicely peppery rub on the pork ribs. And if you ever wonder whether the current Berkshire pork obsession is just spin, contrast and compare the two meats and you’ll taste the difference. Because of the shorter cooking time, Hill Country’s non-Berkshire pork ribs were still pink inside and chewy, not falling off the bone.

The beer can game hen proved to be a worthwhile experiment. Deep fried with an open beer can inside, it tasted nicely herbal and moist, with crispy skin. It had flavors I didn’t realize hen or canned beer could have. How they managed to wedge a whole can o’ beer in this lil’ critter I’ll never know.

Unlike Fette Sau, Hill Country is not hostile to vegetarians. There are a heap of sides, many of them meat free. Sharp, slightly oily Longhorn cheddar decked the pasta in the excellent mac-n-cheese, and the corn pudding is perfectly salty-sweet. Black eyed pea salad was ho-hum, and chipotle deviled eggs sounded much more exciting than they were, but they’re a nice apertif to the barbecue if you get hungry waiting in line.

Normally I wouldn’t review a place this early on, but I had an opportunity to go and a camera, so please consider this an early report. Over the course of the evening, however, it became apparent that a lot of thought has already gone into Hill Country. By “thought,” I mean “focus group input.” Like the latest designer fragrance, nothing in the formula offends, but nothing sticks out at you, either. The faux-fluorescent lighting and kitschy props nailed to the walls reminded me of TGI Fridays or Chili’s, though thankfully none of the servers are wearing “flare.” Hill Country has only been open for a matter of weeks, but their in-house barbecue sauce is already for sale at the gift counter by the door, though it’s a pretty average sauce. Setting up a gift counter before you have a devoted following seems like creating your own celebrity fan club before you’re even famous.

Nevertheless, since this is the kind of free-range place where no one kicks you out, we meandered downstairs to listen to live blues. The luckiest moment of the night came when one of the sous chefs literally tossed Chef Mary and me a bourbon pecan pie at the bar. It was hands down the most delicious pecan pie we’ve ever eaten (sorry, Mom), loaded with fresh nuts and laced with bourbon and molasses.

The bourbon pecan pie, the sugared bar nuts, the bands, the friendly counter staff, the space for huge parties, and the location are all good reasons to return to Hill Country – and the Kruez sausage is supposed to be a tasty Texas specialty as well, though we didn’t get a chance to try it. But if I have a hankering for pork ribs again, I’ll be danged if I’m not on the first train out to Williamsburg.

Hill Country
30 West 26th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
New York, New York

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Fette Sau

Perhaps no other advertising campaign has done a greater disservice to its product than “Pork: The Other White Meat.” Borne out of the fat-phobic late ’80s, the National Pork Board’s campaign reduced the entire animal to the pork chop. If the complex, meaty, by turns fatty and lean pig could talk, she would no doubt tell you: I am so not a chicken.

Twenty years later, our obsession with barbecue and pork’s ability to take on and emphasize spicy, smoky flavors may seem new, but it has long been part of the basic vocabulary in Chinese, Korean, Italian, German, and yes, Southern cuisine. Consider this: would David Chang of Momofuku be David Chang without his silent partner, the Berkshire pig?

It requires a certain mania for the fatty beast to see a barbecue joint in an auto body shop, bring in a crypt-sized Southern Queen smoker, make all the right connections with Berkshire pork suppliers, and open your doors for business. But that’s just what owners Kim and Joe Carroll of Fette Sau have done.

By now you probably know what’s on the menu: pork spareribs, pork sausages, pulled pork, plus some beef brisket to give that guy a nod too. But it’s the sau that impresses. Fatty, rich pork belly is like the foie gras of pork products. The ribs are charred on the outside, meaty and tender between the bones. There’s an espresso-and-brown-sugar rub on them, but as with the pulled pork, the true deliciousness comes from the unadulterated flavor of smoke. The Southern Queen smoker – and chef Matt Lang – sure can cook.

I’m no barbecue expert, since I come from Maryland, the no-man’s-land considered the South by Yankees but disdained by Carolinians and ignored by Texans. But barbecue experts have endorsed Fette Sau’s separation of meat from sauce, which you combine yourself at the table. The sweet sauce is the traditional mix of ketchup, vinegar, maybe a bit of Worchestershire sauce, and some other secret ingredients, but it was still my favorite because of my Southern-ish sweet tooth – same goes for the sweet white rolls. Fette Sau’s spicy sauce is a much more complex, mole-like mixture that tastes of coffee, dried chilies, molasses, and unsweetened chocolate. The two would taste great mixed together.

The non-meat sides received a drubbing in previous reviews of Fette Sau, so we skipped these – except for the excellent Gus’ half sour pickles – and headed straight for the baked beans. Embedded with hunks of brisket, they tasted like the ideal incarnation of Fette Sau’s mole-like spicy sauce.

Though the atmosphere is pretty much the polar opposite of Frederick’s Downtown, Fette Sau does have that see-and-be-seen scene, Williamsburg version, lots of outdoor seating at picnic tables, and few rules. (“No drinks outside after 11pm.”) Walking into the garage, I felt the same kind of relief a teenager experiences upon arriving at a keg party in somebody’s indestructible concrete basement. It’s the kind of place where you can let your hair down, don some Williamsburg style glasses in weird 80’s frames à la Michael Caine, and drink a gallon of beer – literally. A slew of microbrews is dispensed from pulls rigged with butchery tools into gallon-size glass jugs. If that doesn’t spell an afternoon of Brooklyn patio drinking, I don’t know what does. Just get there early because, like Pies ‘N’ Thighs, Fette Sau tends to run out of food, usually by 9:30pm on weekends.

The extensive list of bourbon, whiskey and rye is like the bonanza of breaking into the absentee parents’ liquor cabinet: Whiskey, all you want! We particularly liked the Tuthilltown rye and the Black Maple Hill bourbon. If you’re really daring, knowledgeable bartender Dave Herman will serve you a bit of corn mash liquor that tastes like moonshine: the ceramic jug says it all.

As with a keg party, days later, my clothes still smell like smoke, but this time it’s the alluring scent of barbecue. It even makes me hungry, which is no problem, because like addicted regulars at Fette Sau, I ordered more pulled pork at the end of the night – to go.

Fette Sau
354 Metropolitan Avenue at Havemyer Street
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

for directions go to

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